Boston-based architects Höweler+Yoon, along with Mabel O. Wilson, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, and Dr. Frank Dukes, are designing a circular memorial to honor the slaves who helped build The University of Virginia (UVA). The memorial was approved by the UVA's Board of Visitors Buildings and Grounds Committee this past Friday. It is estimated that some 5,000 enslaved people contributed to the erection of the University, which was planned by President Thomas Jefferson two centuries ago. Only a fifth of those who worked on the University's construction have recorded names, almost all of which are singular first names. These will be inscribed on the circular memorial—formally titled the "Memorial to Enslaved Laborers"—and space will be left for further names, should research uncover more. The design features a locally sourced granite circle, with a diameter of roughly 80 feet and rising gradually to a peak of eight feet, that references The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. The architects consulted residents of Charlottesville and worked with the University when drafting their proposal; their efforts included community meetings and a social media campaign. "It was critical that we engage the school and local community to ensure that we heard as many voices as possible, and that we understood what individuals felt the memorial needed to achieve,” said Dr. Frank Dukes, in a press release. The memorial comprises two rings. The larger ring will display the names of enslaved people on the inside as it encases a smaller ring, which will serve as a bench for contemplation and hold a water table. A history of slavery at UVA will also be etched into this inner ring. Marcus Martin, a co-chair of the President’s Commission on Slavery and Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity at UVA, told the Washington Post that the water "will symbolize libation and the transatlantic voyage of the enslaved people." Martin added that he envisions programs and classes being held at the memorial. "I can see gospel choirs singing there. I can see people giving speeches there," he also said. "Students, staff, and faculty will pass by it every day.... They will probably sit there and reflect upon the memorial." UVA, from an architectural perspective, is laced in history. Monticello and UVA are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for example, but Kirt von Daacke, a professor and assistant dean at UVA, said the university aims to address the fact that "Jefferson is both the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the man who founded a radical experiment in higher education in the United States, and a lifelong slaveholder with rather unpleasant views." "I don’t think the university, until the last decade, had really begun to grapple with that reality," he continued, in conversation with the Washington Post. "I’m really excited that we are adding to that landscape." In a separate press release, Meejin Yoon of Höweler + Yoon also stated, “the Memorial is a facet of the University’s commemorative project that involves many people and initiatives, we envision this memorial to embody the ideals of the University which, as Jefferson defined to be, 'to follow truth wherever it may lead.'"
Posts tagged with "Mabel O. Wilson":
New book delves into history of the NMAAHC, offering all-too-rare look into major modern building project
The first corona in the skies above Trump’s Washington will occur on August 21, 2017, when a passing moon partially reveals light emanating out millions of miles from the surface of the sun. This great halo of solar rays will fall on the anniversary of the 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion in Southampton, Virginia, where violence in the face of injustice exposed the mounting terror of slavery and accelerated the pace of abolition’s inevitable advent a blood-soaked generation later. While likely unnoticed inside today’s White House just across its namesake Ellipse, the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture will innately mark that celestial confluence by the design and engineering animating its symbolic facade: the three-tiered curtain of reflective bronze-coated cast aluminum that defines its four equivalent sides. Labeled as “corona,” it is a sunburst incarnate, recalling the woven modular strips of West African Ashanti textiles and Nigerian Yorubaland caryatids. That kind of metaphorical connection is prompted by the rigorous, cross-disciplinary narrative contained in this compact and amply illustrated volume by architect and educator, Mabel O. Wilson. Commissioned by the Museum to mark its recent launch, Wilson delivers with a history of its genesis from century-long civic intent to the intricate teamwork of curators, scholars, and (above all) architects and engineers, who together shaped its conceptual vision. This is all-too-rare look at what a modern building requires in its realization, especially when the stakes are no less than the historic record itself and a site at the hinge of L’Enfant’s plan. Professor Wilson sums up well, “each architect and firm… played a distinct and complementary role, which they described as working together like a jazz quartet.” Her task here is to annotate the resulting score. What further distinguishes Begin With the Past from a routine souvenir book published for an opening (and harkening back to a lost but once common tradition of keepsake publications for such occasions) is its primary focus on the process of construction itself. Wilson recounts this history propelling the pursuit for a national “negro” memorial ideally on the National Mall always with an eye with what the architectural solution would be for each successive iteration. While initially nothing but a white marble Beaux Arts temple seemed suitable, the sheer longevity of the political jockeying, budgetary ebbs and flows, public transparency, and open competition meant its architecture could adjust to shifting definitions of what best informs the African-American experience today in all its complexity. Underlying but evolving narratives of bondage, prejudice, cultural intersections, and the promises of progress as vivified by both people and events—as well as the collections gathered to tell these stories—shaped its sheltering form. There was throughout an eager embrace of new materials and technologies (green among them) that turned delay into opportunity. Wilson’s chapter titled “Drawing Up the Plans” offers a model synthesis of good intentions yielding to implementation beginning at long last with site selection followed by the guiding building program. Too often this long resolution disappears in the glare of some architect celebrity at the expense of the combined effort really responsible. Lead designer Sir David Adjaye of Freelon Adjaye Bond, alongside Davis Brody Bond (especially partner forbear, Max Bond, who died in 2009 with the building finally under way) and landscape architect firm, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, share due billing with the structural, mechanical, and civil engineers who framed solutions far beyond the mere fulfilling of orders. The chapter “Inside the African American Story” stands out as a standard of well-explained problem solving; its welcome inclusion of design elevations and blueprints cements this comprehensive intent. What the author describes as “ a spiritual feeling like that of a cathedral,” comes as much from a soaring interior of long vistas as the combined efforts the book affirms. This is a building that blends strife with hope as its historical mandate deserved. Wilson’s book helps show us not only why but how. Begin With The Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture Mabel O. Wilson, Smithsonian Books, 2016.
Recently, at The Architect's Newspaper (AN) we have seen an influx of architectural projects—Motown Museum expansion, The Equal Justice Initiative's The Memorial to Peace and Justice, Emancipation Park—which explore methods of memorialization and the celebration of black experiences in America. On the occasion of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) last September, the museum created greater visibility for these narratives and formed new discourses on race. AN sat down with Mabel O. Wilson, an architect and associate professor at Columbia's GSAPP, to discuss her new book Beginning with the Past which details the hard-fought process of realizing NMAAHC. Wilson also participated in the original competition for the museum in collaboration with DS+R and Hood Design Studio. AN: James Baldwin, in his essay Many Thousands Gone wrote, “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America–or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans.” This quote reiterates a similar statement he made to Congress that you included in your book. Can you talk about that statement in relation to the aim you had for Beginning With The Past? Mabel Wilson: I think what Baldwin was trying to say is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and I would also put into that the genocide of indigenous peoples, are really the original sins of America. I think there is a way in which the notion of exceptionalism has never been able to contend with the violence that was necessary for the shaping of the nation. In 2014, the AIA released a report which surveyed architects and found that racial minorities are vastly underrepresented in both the academy and the profession. At the same time, many initiatives have emerged recently to address these racial inequalities: Paul Revere William's AIA Gold Award, the Phil Freelon GSD fellowship, the AIA's new diversity scholarship, the "Say it Loud" exhibition. Do these initiatives capture the reforms needed to address the systemic challenges that face the profession in the pursuit to increase diversity? What more can architects do? I think there are many factors that have to do with the low number of minorities in the field. It’s like movie production, it’s a field that requires access to vast amounts of capital. And so you have to, in some fashion, be able to gain access to that [capital] as an architect. I always tell people that if you want to find out the history of African American architecture, you have to go back and look at all the black builders who, particularly by the 20th century, weren’t ‘licensed architects.’ There were other ways [that] people were building and thinking about space, but it isn’t the stuff that ends up in the history books or recorded by local chapters of the professional association. But it’s out there so you have to look elsewhere. To build is to have power. That’s not something given up easily, which women have found out in architecture. It’s not an easy ceiling to break because of the ways that buildings are tied to power structures and power relations and wealth. As you describe in your book, the Smithsonian unsurprisingly sought African American-led firms and experts to participate in the competition process, casting a light on the deficiencies of architectural competitions to include minority-owned and operated entities. Beyond hiring black architects when they're able to, what can institutional clients do to include historically disadvantaged voice in the development of large cultural projects? I really respect Lonnie Bunch for insisting that the teams have a diverse range of architects. That’s huge in terms of opportunities because it’s fundamentally who you know; it’s social networking which often in this country is determined along racial lines. Even though I’d say the majority of people [and institutions] don’t think of themselves as racists, we’ve just had a huge racist backlash in this country that is showing up as antisemitism and islamophobia and other things. I think the effort to bring in diverse voices for projects is important. The Smithsonian, particularly under Lonnie Bunch’s leadership, produced teams that would not have perhaps normally come together. Your research into spatial politics and collective memory are present at various points throughout your book, especially with regard to the NMAAHC’s location on the National Mall adjacent to the Washington Monument. What does it mean for all Americans that these African American histories and narratives are consolidated on this particular site? In the wake of the NMAAHC, do you see architecture playing a bigger role in telling the story of black America? Certainly, the museum has brought this kind of sensibility to a lot of issues. It has a very important presence in that it is visible to the world. And, it’s impossible to get a ticket, still, there is extraordinary demand to experience this history because it was never told and the material wasn’t collected. That was the big challenge for [NMAAHC]. Most people think that designing the building and raising the money was the hard part. No, it was building a collection. I think it’s significant now, as we think about these legacies, how people mark these things that have already been forgotten. So that is why I think [NMAAHC] is important because that collection work was never done. I think we are still dealing with issues of race as a nation and as a world; we still have work to do.